Zanac

A blistering shoot ’em up from developer Compile, Zanac’s unique and sophisticated progression-based AI creates a fresh, challenging and continually evolving gameplay experience.

Zanac

Japanese Title: ザナック
English Release: Zanac (NES, 1987)

Release Date: November 28, 1986
Publisher: Pony Canyon
Developer: Compile
Genre: Shoot ’em up
Product Code: PNF-ZAN
Disk Format: Double-sided
Notable Credits:  Designed by Masamitsu Niitani, Takayuki Hirono and Koji Teramoto. Music Composed by Masatomo Miyamoto.

Sprite flicker and slow-down are the hallmark flaws of Nintendo’s 8-bit hardware, and unfortunately these flaws work in direct opposition to the design principals of the shoot ’em up genre. It’s no surprise that there are few notable examples of the genre on Nintendo 8-bit hardware. It’s even less of a surprise that two of the three exemptions to this genre deficit were developed by Compile (Compile’s weird and wonderful Gun Nac being the other and third game being Naxat Soft’s Japan exclusive Recca: Summer Carnival ’92).

Zanac is a remarkable feat, considering the limitations of the hardware on which it runs. There are, at times, a massive amount of bullets, bombs, power-ups and destructible scenery on screen simultaneously, all coexisting together without the slightest hint of sprite flicker or slow-down.

Zanac could well be remembered for its detailed and well drawn sprites, or for its deeply customizable power-up options, or even for the inventive stage capping boss contraptions, but perhaps what the game is best remembered for is also its most impressive feat: scaling difficulty.

While playing Zanac the CPU tracks your progress from the moment you begin the game and adjusts the difficulty based on both how and how well you play. Shoot more bullets, get more enemies; use your weapons sparingly, and the endless waves of enemies not only lessen but different types of enemies begin to appear. Because of this ingenious and unique mechanic, no two play throughs of Zanac are ever the same. The moment to moment difficulty scaling tends to the increase the overall challenge for veterans of genre, for whom memorization of enemy patterns is a usual strategy. Rather then rewarding genre regulars, the scaling difficulty invariably tips the scales in favour of the novice. That’s not to say this is strictly an entry level shooter, quite the contrary. There is enough meat on Zanac’s bones to satisfy even the most hardcore shoot ’em up fanatic.

Fortunately, Zanac did see a North American release for the Nintendo Entertainment System, which is fabulous because Zanac truly stands out as one of the best shooters available on any Nintendo 8-bit machine; disk-based or otherwise.